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Fresh perspectives wanted on possibly bloated design.

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Patrick Robles
Patrick Robles's picture
Joined: 09/10/2012

I posted this over on BGG and it helped me focus in a bit, I'll re-post here to show the process of my ideas changing.

Begin first post:
I'm getting a bit hung up on minutely different ways to structure a few elements of this WIP. Explaining my ideas and answering questions usually helps me focus in on what I want to achieve so in the interest of helping me stumble my way out of the woods questions and comments are greatly appreciated.

As it sits now the game is a 1-4 player competitive with art heavily inspired by 8 bit action RPGs: Zelda, Dragon Warrior, Ys, etc. Not that the art will be represented in this post, rather you will be floored by my awesome GIMP mock ups.

I think the best way to describe the theme is each player is racing to finish the game both by beating various quests, solving puzzles, exploring hidden caves, etc. and by manipulating the difficulty of the game for their advantage and to make the path more difficult for other players. These are Questing and Debug modes respectively.

Flavor-wise the hero is a young Dwarf who decided to live a life of exile rather than serve in the military. This prohibits him from growing a beard, which in turn means he is not a man, er, Dwarf. Let's just say it means he is not an adult and as such he cannot do adult things such as own land or "go with the fairer sex."

One day while panning for gold in an underground river he spies a young lady Dwarf, the world shakes, the air crackles with electricity. Long story short he must undertake a series of tasks to pay off the back taxes owed from his period of exile in order to gain the right to grow his beard.
I'll give you a second to lift your jaw off the floor before I explain... ready?

The grey rectangles along the top make up the Action Timer. I'll get back to that in a second.

The stick man is the character avatar, flanking him are two slots for equipped items. Above the three is the health meter, destined to display in plump red hearts.

Next you will see 3 rectangles of varying colors, which make up the Backpack, Hoard, and Special Item slots. Beneath these you have the Belt.

In no particular order:

The avatar is simply an image of the character. But as the player gains the right to grow facial hair a card depicting the newly hirsute Dwarf will be placed here. Each stage of growth, for the time being 'stache chops and beard, will net new abilities.

Equipped items are reusable and played without cost. These are placed face up on the character board.

Items in the Belt are played freely for their normal cost or may be spent to draw items from the Backpack. These are placed face up on the character board. Capacity of the belt is 3 cards.

Items in the Backpack are purchased for use by playing cards from the belt. These cards are stored face down but the player may look at them freely. Capacity of the backpack is 6 cards.

The Hoard replenishes the Backpack. These cards are stored face down and the draw is blind, at least for the moment. No limit on card count here.

Now to where things get interesting, or at least I hope they do, the Action Timer.

All cards have a cost of 1-6 that corresponds to where it is placed on the Timer after it is played. This value is the number of turns before the player can collect a card after it is played. Once a card, or stack of cards, is available a player chooses placement in the Backpack, Belt, or Hoard, space permitting.

Additionally while in Debug Mode a player may play his cards on an opponent's Action Timer. An example would be playing a monster card on top of the competitor's fat stack of attack cards used in his last battle. In order to regain the cards the opponent would have to fight the monster but he is seriously hampered by the fact that the monster is squatting on top of the lion's share of his attack cards.

There will also be cards that allow a player to advance the position of cards on the Timer or the opposite for an opponent's cards.

Each player will start with the same deck. At present it is comprised of Role and Action cards.

Role cards:
1 x Quest (note a player may Explore/quest at any time but the Quest card is needed if a player wants to make progress on the Mainquest track required to win the game)
1 x Debug: Players use Action cards or cards won from Questing to gain advantage or negatively impact their opponents
1 x Mine: gain Jem* cards
1 x Pause: This allows for free hand management. A player may freely swap cards between the Belt, Backpack, Hoard, and Equipped slots.
1 x Secret: allows access to hidden parts of the board to find esoteric item cards.
1 x Cheat: allows temporary alteration of game rules, invincibility, auto quest complete, etc.

Action cards:
3 x Pickax: Used during quests to combat monsters, used to Mine
2 x Prospector's Pan: Used during quests for defense, used to Mine
3 x Lore: Used to solve puzzles during quests
3 x Rope: Used to overcome obstacles during quests

A note on Jems. These are used to increase the power of cards, and to alter a beneficial card to have a negative effect, and vice versa.

This brings me to my first sticking point. At present the starting deck is shuffled and a player draws 9 cards, choosing placement in the Belt and Backpack. The remaining cards are placed in the Hoard and are drawn from randomly as the backpack is depleted, or accessed when Pause is used.

The question is should role cards be added to the deck of starting cards or available freely as long as they are not out of commission on the Action Timer? I added the rule that a player may Quest at any time to solve the problem of having a hand without any Role cards and essentially losing a turn. I later decided that even with that rule Role cards should be available freely. Then the waffling began.

Next point of doubt. How to structure quests and Quests, and the acquisition of the corresponding cards?

Initially side-quest cards were added to the Hoard and eventually available for use during play, and Main-Quest cards were collected and stored separately to count towards completing the game.

Side-quest cards were placed on several areas of the board, one random deck per area. 3 cards were drawn from each deck and placed face up by the draw deck, a player attempting a side-quest would choose 1 of the cards to attempt. If successful the player adds the card to his Hoard, if he fails the card is added to a common side-quest discard pile. In either case a new card is drawn. Once a player has gained 3 side-quest cards they may attempt a forth to gain a Special Item.

A note on Special Items. These are needed to use the Secret mode, and while not required to beat the game make it a damn site easier.

The Main-Quest was a bit different. Each player has their own stack of Level 1 MQ cards, after completing 3 of these they draw a Mid-boss card to battle. Then move on to Level 2 and 3. Once they have 3 Level 3 cards under their belt they can attempt the Final Boss.

Here is where the problem comes in. I decided that each Mid-boss would be altered by the 3 side-quest cards used to purchase him, and the Final-boss would be the same but altered by the Mid-boss cards rather than quest cards. This could be as simple as assigning a value to each card in Lore, Rope, etc. and adding that to the base value for each boss or as complex as functioning as how the boss is programmed.

A note on programming. My main idea for combat is based on "beats." My thought here is to try and tie the boardgame experience to that of the OG RPG, mainly finding patterns and learning timing.

Here is a rather awe inspiring Monster card:

Attack, defense, and health values are given and are obvious. Along the bottom are a series of hash marks that correspond to game time while in Quest mode. This particular card show 2 measures. The letters above certain hashes are the action the monster will take on that "beat." Obstacles and puzzles would play out in a similar fashion.

Each player starts a quest round with 6 Timing Points per measure, each card played counts against those 6 points, and each beat in which a player does not act also consumes 1 Timing Point.

Equipped cards may only be used once per measure but have no Timing cost. Cards in the Belt or purchased from the Backpack may only be used once per encounter at the specified Timing cost. Any deficit in Timing points is added to the placement of cards on the Action Timer. Additionally cards may be spent to gain extra action points per quest round.

Back to my problem. Quest cards are won and added to a player's hand to increase the strength of her deck but they are also used to purchase Mid-boss encounters. Should this usage be decided when the cards are initially purchased/attempted? Should a player only be allowed to attempt a Mid-boss if they manage to draw 3 quest cards in a hand?

Or should I turn it on its ear. Each quest card has an encounter type associated with it, Monsters = Ax/Pan, Puzzles = Lore, Obstacles = Rope.

In lieu of being able to quest at will, a player may only quest when they play the Quest card. They may however "program" at will, which would be how cards are purchased. So if they choose to program and have 2 x Ax, 1 x Lore, 1 x Rope in their hand they can buy cards equaling those values and add them to their personal quest deck.

In order to "complete" the quest and add the card to their hand they have to play the Quest card as their role, then complete the quest as outlined by the actions displayed on the Timing track.

Opposing players could then use Debug to increase difficulty by "attacking" another player's Quest deck with a quest card. The targeted play can't progress in the game until she defeats that quest card, which would then be discarded, not added to her hand.

This last bit after "turn it on its ear" came to me as I was typing. Which is kind of the point of this post, put things down and see what gels. I'll do some testing with that idea but in the meantime questions and comments are more than welcome!

Patrick Robles
Patrick Robles's picture
Joined: 09/10/2012
My second post: Thanks for

My second post:

Thanks for the considered response. That would be a solution but I don't think the solution for this particular problem. Mixing cards of differing types in the same deck isn't my sticking point. It is how to control the usage of two different types of cards.

The starting deck cards, which are the Action and Role cards, wouldn't be categorized as "things that require effort to do" rather "things that allow you to perform things that require effort to do." They are themselves a resource that require management to control which options are available for a player.

I suspect that the answer is to mix the two card types, this increases the importance of how well a player is able to track when cards are available to collect from the Action Timer and ensuring that spaces are available either in the Belt or the Backpack to receive the cards he wants.

It also makes it that much more important to protect the Action Timer from attacking opposing players. If you can sit on a Role card without it using a slot in the Belt or the Backpack I think it weakens strategic decisions.

All that said just 4 or 5 days ago I twigged to that same realization that everything collected during the game should be roughly equivalent, that is to say "EVERYTHING is a quest." The effects of a puzzle, monster, or quest card might be different but it functions the same way within the game. They are added to a player's hand in the same way, they can be used to purchase Mid-boss encounters at the same exchange rate.

Role cards are separate from this thus my question, and really action cards are as well. In reality there will be four types of cards in the same deck: Role cards which define a list of specific actions a player may perform, Action cards that are used to purchase/accomplish those actions, Quest cards which define new actions, and Jems which increase the power of any action but have no use on their own.

Looking at it through the lens of either increasing abilities or furthering the agenda is helpful. I think I have a good split. For the most part cards that further a player's agenda do so by decreasing downtime on availability for other cards.

One quest nets the player the A/RPG ubiquitous Speed Boots. Which on the surface seems an increase in abilities but really has no effect during quests, rather it halves the time cards spend on the Action Timer. A player with this card active can theoretically plunge through the game in half the time as an opponent.

Unless I misunderstand and you mean that any card that increases any in game effect is the first type, and only cards that get a player closer to the end game scenario are the second. If that is the case I have same sticking points later in the original post that touch on that.

I think two major differences between our two designs is the time factor for cards added to a player's tableau and allowing players to "attack" each other.

The first means that players really can't accumulate an ever increasing list of increased abilities, they must make continuous decisions about which effects are active and manage how cards are dispersed once they finish their downtime.

Patrick Robles
Patrick Robles's picture
Joined: 09/10/2012
Third post, specifically

Third post, specifically about combining card types:

I'm mulling this one over. As it sits now pretty much every card that you can purchase/win in the game will have multiple uses, or more accurately a use in multiple Roles. Even the Jems have two ways in which they can be used, either to increase the value of a card, or reverse its effect, in other words turn a card that increases a stat into one that decreases the same stat. Maybe that is a bit weak...

I plan on giving Jem value to some Quest cards. Thematically I want to include a Mining role and I've considered making it a blind draw of any sort of card available in the game, excluding Special Items, rather than just Jems. That never sat right with me as it seemed to step ont he toes of the Quest role but I think I could combine this with the idea of the "Programming" role to good effect.

I don't want to push the luck element of the game too far, I really want to limit it to the Mining role, and to give the player a choice from a limited set of randomly drawn Quest cards. This last mitigated by cards that allow a player to increase the set size.

However if I abstract the concept of Mining for a resource to include any usable in game card I think some other issues might have more evident answers.

My initial reaction on that is I can go back to an early structure of a non randomized Main-Quest with the bulk of the variance game to game coming from how the Mining role plays out. I think that would allow for a more friendly learning curve and let the players build more concrete strategies.

End post.

Thoughts and questions are most welcome.

JustActCasual's picture
Joined: 11/20/2012
I like the 'meta' flavour of

I like the 'meta' flavour of the game (you are playing a player of a character in a ARPG video game) but I think it gets lost in the more generic adventure base (you are playing an ARPG character). Maybe you could make the starting flavour reflect this more? Example: "Loading...Greetings [HERO]! Welcome to DwarFame! Can you defeat Seven Lords of Chaos and earn the right to your Dwarven Beard? It's Dangerous to Go Alone!"

You could use this as a solution to your card combination problem: most Zelda dungeons take the form of Challenges -> Tool -> Challenges -> Boss -> Treasure Piece. Maybe you could work this into the design of the card, say one side is Dungeon Flavour (The Air Temple) and the basic challenges (Swarm of Bats Attack!) then you flip it when you beat the challenge to reveal another 2 part card with the tool and the boss. You can use the tool item, but then when you eventually beat the Boss challenge you can trade in the card for a Beard Piece. A nice side-effect is that it eliminates a lot of the fiddly item management for the more fun action management. It also provides some inherent curve and tension (when do you want to start trading away your Items/ defeating Bosses?). You could provide Dungeons of various challenge so that you still had the scaling (Easy Dungeon gives you a single Health potion, Hard Dungeon gives you The Bow), and allow players to select which to face (say leaving an array of options up like in Smallworld: the top of the deck is visible and choosable).

Patrick Robles
Patrick Robles's picture
Joined: 09/10/2012
Thanks for the comments. I

Thanks for the comments.

I felt that the theme was a bit inconsistent myself, since posting this on BGG I've all but decided to get rid of the concept of "beats" to capture quest cards, although I might keep it for the boss characters. Likely not, I think it is destined for another game. Also that the "aggressive" actions, those that effect other players, seem more at place with a theme of playing the programmer of the ARPG. That said I do want to have a substantial layer of player interaction, so I'm looking for a twist that reinforces the main theme.

Possibly of interest the original theme was each player is an elderly dwarf telling the story of a dwarven folk hero to a group of youngsters and had simultaneous play. Then I came up with the idea of "Pausing" the game which lead to the current theme.

I find it funny that what you describe as building tension I was trying to avoid, namely having to make the decision of keeping quest cards or using them to purchase boss encounters. Adding to the ridiculousness I actually identified the balancing of VP and a useful deck in Dominion as an element somewhat missing from my game. Thanks for shifting my perception a bit on that.

Current thoughts: strip out or simplify a few elements of the game, focus on managing the flow of Roles which helps reinforce the theme of controlling the player rather than the character, look for a twist to keep player interaction thematic.

Along those lines: Jems are out, mining is a bit more abstract, "purchasing" cards is simplified, retain the Sophie's Choice of deck power or game progression.

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